It’s fairly safe to say, that few filmmakers would attempt to shoot a found footage movie like Bobcat Goldthwait’s “Willow Creek.” There aren’t many writer/directors who could make an absurd combination mockumentary/horror flick even remotely watchable. That’s why Goldthwait is one of the bravest, most uncompromising voices in independent film right now. When he decides to experiment with a specific type of story, he’s dedicated to seeing the project through, no matter how strange the idea is. He gracefully accepts that not everyone loves what he’s doing, and focuses on creating fresh pictures for the people who understand his style.
“Willow Creek” tells the story of a couple, Jim and Kelly, who venture out into the deep forest in search of Bigfoot. Yes, that’s right. Bigfoot. They’ve traveled specifically to Willow Creek, California, so that they retrace the steps of Bigfoot researchers Patterson and Gimlin, who recorded the most famous footage of the creature. Kelly is a non-believer, joining Jim just to be supportive. Jim, on the other hand, hopes to capture his own proof of Bigfoot’s existence, which is why he’s constantly taping everything.
The film is a bizarre combination of “The Blair Witch Project” and a cheesy Travel Channel show. It definitely has moments where it’s scary, but it’s quite corny as well, and downright hilarious at points. Part of Jim’s footage involves him doing stand-ups like a television host trying to be clever. He also does interviews with actual locals who are experts on the legendary monster. Some sing songs about it, others expound on their encounters with it, and a couple just warn Jim and Kelly against venturing into the woods.
With all the hilarious jokes Jim and Kelly crack about the Bigfoot-inspired tourist traps they visit, it seems like Goldthwait is trying to make a comedic statement about how loony these Bigfoot devotees are. However you quickly realize that it’s quite the opposite in fact; Goldthwait is a believer himself. He tries as hard as possible to make this trip seem totally convincing as if his characters were actual people. Goldthwait accomplishes that with crappy looking footage shot with video devices an average person might own, in-camera editing, off-balance audio levels, and extremely long takes. The longest take is approximately 19 minutes in length, and although it feels very authentic, it’s where the film immediately loses momentum.
Jim and Kelly are trapped in the same place for almost 20 minutes, giving realistic reactions to audible, unseen threats, yet it’s extremely tough to just watch them sitting still for what seems like forever. It makes the film feel twice as long as it is, which is not good, considering it’s already lean enough to be well-under 90 minutes. Adding insult to injury, the ending is one of those frustratingly ambiguous ones which annoys you for having suffered through immense suspense without closure.
As obnoxious as the movie’s finish and slow pacing are, you still have to give Goldthwait credit for sticking with his guns on this zany idea, in order to bring it to fruition. As he discussed in a post-screening Q & A session after the IFFBoston screening of the movie, he’s the kind of director who never wants to make the same thing twice, so we can definitely count on him to craft something completely different for his next project. His playful nature and willingness to try new things is why I’m looking forward to seeing whatever genre Bobcat takes on next.
My Grade: B-....as in Better Than Average. But Not By Much.
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